What makes Jeremiah’s prophecies both of “doom” and of “hope”?

Jeremiah was introduced by Bandstra (p322) as “the weeping prophet” which implies Jeremiah’s passionate and frank expression of his own feeling from his inner spiritual life. According to Dr. Lester’s lecture “Jerusalem and Jeremiah B”, the time of Jeremiah’s prophecy is between the age of during King Josiah’s Deuteronomic reform (around 626 BCE) and the Fall of Jerusalem by Babylonia (586 BCE), which is shown in his prophecy in the book of Jeremiah. In his prophecies, Jeremiah expresses his concern about social justice and denounces the king (Jehoiakim) and the people for their idolatry and injustice, which is against the optimistic Zion theology of Judah (Dr. Lester’s lecture of Jerusalem and Jeremiah B; Bandstra p 330)  Bandstra affirms that Jeremiah thoroughly shaped by the Mosaic tradition was against the dogma of Davidic-Zion theology (p330). Thus, Jeremiah’s prophecies appear to be negative and “doom” in general compared to the optimistic Zion theology. However, as Dr. Lester mentions in his lecture, Jeremiah’s prophecies also suggest a hope among his prophecies of “doom.” I would like to figure out how it works in the following texts.

Jeremiah 1:1-19 provides the information about Jeremiah as a Judean prophet with a Deuteronomic-style introduction (Bandstra, p326); vv.1-3 presents Jeremiah’s dates of prophecy and vv.4-19 his call and commission. Jeremiah’s call is expressed in poetic form in vv.4-10 followed by two visions in vv.11-14 with two editorial expansions in vv.15-16 and vv.17-19. In his call (vv.4-10), Jeremiah’s response to God’s call (v.6), an objection to his call, echoes Moses’ in Exodus 4:10-12, which might imply Jeremiah as a “prophet like Moses”(Deut 18:15-22) (The Harper Collins Study Bible, p998).  However, God’s persistent call and appointment of Jeremiah as a prophet continues in vv.7-10. In v. 10, God appoints Jeremiah “over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant,” which is understood as a recurring motif of Jeremiah’s message (The Harper Collins Study Bible, p1001). The first vision, “a branch of an almond tree,” which is interpreted as a pun emphasizing God’s enactment of the prophetic word, and the second vision, “a boiling pot,” is interpreted by God in v 14 as “out of the north disaster shall break out on all the inhabitants of the land”, which is explained in the following editorial expansion in vv. 15-16, that is, the Babylonian conquest resulted from violation of the Mosaic covenant, “wickedness in forsaking me…made offerings to other gods, and worshiped the works of their own hands” (The Harper Collins Study Bible, p1002). The vision of “a boiling pot” in v.13 and God’s saying in the editorial expansion of vv. 15-16 sound like a prophecy of “doom” as a warning against the Babylonian conquest in the future of Judah. However, God’s appointment of Jeremiah as a prophet like Moses, God’s command to Jeremiah to tell the people of Judah what he heard from God with the reason of God judgment against  them, and God’s promise to protect Jeremiah from the Judean leadership’s predictable opposition and persecution,  all these appear to imply a message of “hope”, a warning with a “hope”; if the people of Judah would accept Jeremiah’s prophecy and turn from their sinful ways, there should be a hope of their salvation, the possibility of “non-destruction from Babylonia.”

Jeremiah 2:1-13 presents the Exodus story and God’s covenant with Israel as the standard that the people of Israel at the time of Jeremiah are to be judged (Stanley, p447). In vv. 1-3, Jeremiah uses Hosea’s metaphor of ‘marriage’ and describes Israel as Yahweh’s bride (Dr. Lester’s lecture, Jerusalem and Jeremiah B). In this text, Jeremiah contrasts Israel’s faithfulness in the Sinai wilderness with its disloyalty after entrance into Canaan in their following the Canaanite god Baal. (The Harper Collins Study Bible, pp.1002-1003) “But my people have changed their glory for something that does not profit,” in v.11 and “… be utterly desolate,” in v.12 appear to be connected to God’s saying in Jeremiah 1:15-16 and “for m y people have committed two evils… dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water” in v.13 sounds hopeless.

Jeremiah 4:23-28 is continuing part of Jeremiah’s second prophecy in which Jeremiah urges the people of Jerusalem, which is under the siege of the enemy, Babylonia, to repent and engage in lamentation. In the text, Jeremiah described the result of the invasion as the state of chaos like the state before the creation.(The Harper Collins Study Bible, pp.1008-1009) The poem indicates the destruction of war looks like the end of the world; “The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end,” in v.27 and the expected lamentation of the earth and heavens described in v.28 with the ending “I have not relented nor will I turn back,” sound like a prophecy of “doom”, which does not provide a glimpse of a hope.

Jeremiah 5:1-5 is a judgment oracle which describes the continued disobedience and sinfulness of the people of Jerusalem under the siege of the enemy, Babylonia. In 5:1, Jeremiah’s looking for one righteous person “who acts justly and seeks truth—“reminds us of Abraham’s efforts to save Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18:22-23. However, Jeremiah’s efforts are in vain, which is described in vv.2-5; the people falsely swear to the covenant in v.2; they refuse to turn back to correct their sin in v.3; both the people who know the law of God and those who do not know “all alike had broken the yoke, they had burst the bonds.” All these implies a prophecy of “doom” that even with Jeremiah’s efforts to find one righteous person who may save Jerusalem, he couldn’t find one “who acts justly and seeks truth so that God may pardon Jerusalem.” (The Harper Collins Study Bible, p1009) However, Jeremiah’s efforts to find a righteous person to save Jerusalem, as Abraham did for Sodom and Gomorrah, still appears to bring a thread of “hope” to the future of Jerusalem at that era.

Jeremiah 7:1-34 includes Jeremiah’s Temple sermon under the reign of Jehoiakim (vv.1-15), which indicates Jeremiah’s challenge against the doctrine of Zion theology, that is, “the belief that the temple on Mount Zion automatically protected Jerusalem” (Bandstra, p329), or the surety of royal theology, that is, the belief that God’s everlasting covenant for Davidic line will protect Jerusalem and the Temple of the Lord from the destruction (Dr. Lester’s lecture, Jerusalem and Jeremiah A & B). In the Temple sermon, Jeremiah condemned this view of the Judean people because of their immoral behaviors. This sermon consists of introduction (vv.1-2), two admonitions (vv.3-4, admonition against Zion theology, vv.5-8, admonition to return to the Mosaic covenant), two rhetorical questions against Zion theology (vv.9-11), and a threat of destruction and exile with mention of Shiloh (vv. 12-15).(The Harper Collins Study Bible, pp1013-1014) Vv.16-20 express God’s anger for the people’s disobedience to Him by forbidding Jeremiah’s intersession as a prophet to save the nation. Vv. 21-28 express God’s commandment of obedience to the people of Israel including moral behavior as the basis for the covenantal relationship with God with the nuance of expected disobedience in vv.24-28. Vv. 29-34 also expresses the fate of Judah and the disinterment of its leaders, which sounds like the prophecy of “doom” with the final phrase, “for the land shall become a waste.” ).(The Harper Collins Study Bible, pp1014-1015) However, the description of God’s persistent sending “all my servants the prophets to them, day after day” in v.25 and still asking Jeremiah to tell the people even with their refusal to listen to and their disobedience to God reveals a possibility of hope in this prophecy of “doom.”

Jeremiah 8:18–9:3 presents Jeremiah’s experience of divine suffering over the imminent destruction of the people during Jehoiakim’s reign (609-598 BCE). Despite the people’s refusal to repent and failure to obey to God’s law, Jeremiah still deeply committed to his people as a prophet like Moses and the images of the destruction that Yahweh intended to bring on them made him greatly painful (Stanley, pp.446-447). Jeremiah’s expression of his grief and heart-sickness for “the cry of my poor people from far and wide in the land” would suggest a hope for the future of Jerusalem and the Jew in that Jeremiah’s suffering would also reflect God’s divine suffering for the cry of His poor people of Judah and Israel. Thus, as God changed His mind at the Sinai by Moses’ dissuasion of God not to destroy the with mercy in Exodus 32:7-14, from destruction to non-destruction of the Israelite for their making and worshipping the golden calf, here we can find a glimpse of hope even in the condition of a prophecy of “doom” which brings about Jeremiah’s divine suffering.

Jeremiah 18:1-12, a prose narrative, includes a symbolic act of the pottery which needs the potter’s skill to manage the wheel to produce vessels, to shape clay in his palm, painting and burnishing, etc (vv.2-4); God has planned evil against Judah and Jerusalem, but will change this fate if they will repent and turn from their evil ways (vv.5-11). However, the conclusion in v.12 indicates the people’s saying against God’s will by following their own evil will (The Harper Collins Study Bible, p1031). Unlike the preceding texts, in this text, using the symbolic act of the pottery, the prophecy of “hope” comes up first; in vv.7-8, God, who has planned a disaster against Judah, that is, “the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylonia,” will change his mind about the disaster, if the nation turns from its evil; in vv.9-10, God also will change his mind about the good, if the nation does the evil in God’s sight not listening to His voice. However, for God’s offer of Jeremiah’s prophecy of hope described in v.11, the people of Judah still refuse to accept God’s will in v.12, which brings on an expectation of the prophecy of “doom.”

Jeremiah 20:7-13 is one of Jeremiah’s laments (Dr. Lester’s lecture, Jerusalem and Jeremiah B). Bandstra asserts that Jeremiah’s complaint in this text is very direct in its criticizing God in his saying that “God seduced him, in effect, raped him.”(p335)  In v.7, the word “enticed” is used two times, which is understood as two important meanings, “to deceive” and “to seduce.” According to The Harper Collins Study Bible, the first word may describe God’s deceiving a prophet and the second, which was used in Exodus 22:16-17 to refer the seduction of a virgin, is metaphorically applied to God’s “seducing Israel” as in Hosea 2:14. Considering the use of ‘overpowered’ in v.7 implying ‘rape’ and the death-penalty for the sinner of ‘rape’ in Deuteronomy 22:25-27, this text appears to reflect Jeremiah’s harsh complaining for God’s dealing with him; God has seduced and then raped him. (Dr. Lester also cites this in his lecture.) In v.8, Jeremiah’s cry, “Violence and destruction!”, is not heard and in v.10, Jeremiah’s enemies, “close friends,” mention the same language of seduction and rape with a word of revenge on him. This complaint is related to his experience of mistreatment at the leaderships of the Jerusalem establishment including Pashhur in 20:1, the priest in charge of the temple police (p335).   But, in vv.11-12, Jeremiah expresses his faith in God to ask a petition for God’s “retribution on his persecutors”. In v.13, Jeremiah praises God as a thanksgiving to anticipate His salvation, that is, “God’s delivering the needy from the evildoers” (p1034). In this text, Jeremiah also appears to express his prophecy of “doom” for his persecutors through his lament and petition and of “hope” for God’s salvation of the needy.

Jeremiah 23:9-32 expresses Jeremiah’s criticism of the false prophets, which Stanley mentions can be found in the prophetic books and in which the criticized biblical prophets usually have more influence with the rulers and people than the criticizing one (p412). According to The Harper Collins Study Bible, in the poetic section of vv. 9-22, vv. 9-12 describes general wickedness that priest and prophet share and vv. 13-15 presents a judgment oracle against the prophets of Samaria and of Jerusalem; vv. 16-17 provides a warning in prose not to pay attention to the false prophets; in vv.18-20, rhetorical questions and a vision report about the failure of the false prophets to see the coming judgment of the Lord are expressed; in vv.21-22, Jeremiah expresses God’s rejection of the false prophets; in vv. 23-32, a sermon stressing God’s opposition to false prophets. In this text of Jeremiah’s criticism of the false prophets, as expected, we can find Jeremiah’s prophesy of “doom” without a hope; the prophets of Samaria is described to have prophesied by Baal and lead the people of Israel astray (v.13), and those of Jerusalem are mentioned to become like Sodom and Gomorrah (v.14) and to be rejected by God (v.32) (pp.1040-1042).

Jeremiah 31 and 32:1-15 express Jeremiah’s prophecies of hope for the restoration of Jerusalem and Judah after destruction, which Bandstra suggests Jeremiah’s message of ‘building and planting’ that was expressed by God in his calling: “to uproot and to break down, to destroy and to overturn, to build and to plant”(p333). In 31, Stanley suggests, Jeremiah expresses “his belief that one day God will restore his people to their land and initiate an era of peace and prosperity in which finally they will live as he hopes.” (p447) Stanley also asserts that this message of hope, which is surprising regarding  Jeremiah’s persistent negative prophecies of “doom”, is directly revealed in his emphasis on the importance of God’s new covenant with Israel (vv. 31:31-34), which will be engraved not on the stone but on the hearts of his people (p448). Therefore, in 31, Jeremiah directly expresses the hope of restoration after destruction with his prophecy of a new covenant God provides for the continuation of Israel. In 32:1-15, Jeremiah purchased a field during the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadrezzar, at the time of conquest and threatened exiles, which emphasizes Jeremiah’s faith in a future restoration.

In the all texts of Jeremiah mentioned above, what makes the differences of “doom” and “hope” in Jeremiah’s prophecies? As Dr. Lester mentions in his lecture, Jerusalem and Jeremiah B, for Jeremiah as a prophet, whose basic function is to be most concerned that the moral and religious principles govern the corporate and personal lives of God’s people” (Bandstra, p195), the historical circumstances where the people lived and their needs in the light of God’s demand could be the factor that might influence on appropriate direction of Jeremiah’s prophecy, whether he should offer a call of love or claim of God’s demand. For example, in Jeremiah 7, Jeremiah condemned the people of Judah under the reign of Jehoiakim for their immorality and optimistic view of the Zion theology and offers them a claim to be moral and Jeremiah’s appropriate prophecy would be “doom.” On the other hand, in Jeremiah 31, Jeremiah brings on a prophecy of hope with God’s new covenant for the people of Judah in the historical circumstances of Nebuchadrezzar’s siege of Jerusalem with the anticipation of exile. In addition, as mentioned in the texts above, God’s persistent call for Jeremiah to tell His words to the people of Judah even with the expectation of their disobedience appears to imply a chance of hope that God offers to his people; if they respond to the prophet’s claim and return to God’s law, then there shall be a hope of salvation from God. This is compatible with what Dr. Lester mentions regarding Deuteronomists’ theological claim about the prophecy of hope appearing at the end of pessimistic prophecy like Amos’s that when the people cry out to God in their punishment, He would respond to them and restore their fortune. Thus, agreeing with Dr. Lester’s argument for “Hope” and “Doom” of Jeremiah, I think both the prophecy of “doom” and of “hope” could come from the same prophet and I will also preach both “doom” and “hope” when I discern it appropriate for the congregation that I am preaching for. However, at this moment of no experience of preaching, I cannot imagine under what circumstances, I could preach both “doom” and “hope.”

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2 thoughts on “What makes Jeremiah’s prophecies both of “doom” and of “hope”?”

  1. As always, great job on the details! I love the idea that you took each of required readings and “dissected” it; making the passage much easier to understand. The one thing I would have liked to have seen was your opinion of when to give both a “Hope” and a “Doom” sermon.

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  2. Great job with your post! I love how detailed you are, I am a little green with envy because I cannot seem to get my mind to commit to this much detail! I often assume that the reader knows what I am talking about and fail to think in terms of what the reader needs to know in order to understand it all. I agree about the opinion comment, just for curiosity sake!

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